The first time Elias and I met, at one of the motorcycle get togethers out at the coast, he was asking for a lifeline. “Scott! You have to save me! Dude!” Not even 30, with his wilder years still fresh, this skinny kid had landed in a group of drunk middle aged suburbanites trying to recreate their forgotten years. In this crowd, as Elias saw it, he and I were two sharp tongued jerks who should be friends. It took some time, but he was right. With a nugget of optimism sometimes well hidden by a jaded irreverence, we both believe the world can be made better, one profanity laced but honest crack at a time - preferably over breakfast when you don't realize a little old lady and some kids are in earshot. “Dude! Shhh…there are kids!” He’d shrug his shoulders and smile or make that Elias face. We all know the face.
Motorcycles opened the door to our friendship, but it’s been in the years since the arrival of our daughters that our families have grown closer. From time to time, we would have brunches together. Jane, my daughter, would laugh and laugh as Elias’s daughter, Margot, ran laps around our porch. Erin and Katie would take the kids to the zoo or maybe meet at a park. On not enough lucky nights, Elias and I would be back on the porch sipping gin and tonics debating what to do with the bikes in our garages and the ones not yet there. Everyone was busy and so weeks would fill the time between, but it was an easy friendship and an important one. Katie and Elias were some of the few people that my wife and I could relax with. Some of that was because we were all in a club we never wanted to be in.
What I didn't know when I first met Elias was that he had a bit of a heart problem. When one morning he looked a little under the weather, he dismissively described it as "A heart thing.” A heart thing. Elias was born with Shone's Complex and underwent, when he was a child, what was very risky heart surgery at Doernbecher hospital. This is the same hospital where my daughter Jane, who was also born with complicated and dangerous heart defects, has spent so much time. His parents were where my wife and I are today. It was through this shared, and unwanted, membership that our family came to love theirs. He, whether he wanted to or not, gave us a window into Jane’s life that we couldn’t have. He had the childhood we are sad to see our child having: the regular visits to the cardiologists, the countless tests, trips to the ER with scared parents, and so on.
But for him, and he's quite clear about this, it was normal. Even when he grew to understand that it wasn't in fact "normal", it didn't matter. He wasn't sad. It was just what life was and is. There were girls (and nurses) to flirt with and trouble to get into. He had some evolving physical limitations - though you wouldn't know it - and there were times that he worried about his young family's future if his health turned. But while his health was part of his daily life, it did not define that life. That definition came from his head and heart - his metaphoric heart -, interests and obsessions, his friends and, most of all, his beautiful family. Not the scars on his chest and back.
And oh how those interests and obsessions ran the gamut. He was the Portland liberal with the gun collection. He was the country boy that lived in the city. He raced motorcycles and raised chickens. Was always on the hunt for the next bike, never satisfied with what he had. Frugal to a fault - boasting that until recently he never bought any of his own clothing - he’d sunk money, but never more than not enough, into a string of questionable vehicles: a BMW 2002, a Land Rover, a couple vanagons, I don’t know how many bikes, and on and on. And you can bet there was at least one spread sheet devoted to each and every one. There was no pigeonhole for Elias.
Except one: husband and father.
Over the past months, he was starting a new chapter for he and his family with his work as a structural engineer. With a three year old daughter and a now newborn son, they, this beautiful family, were reaching for the brass ring. As the lead in a new office in a different city, he was working long hours trying to get everything lined up just so. They’d found a house and were to sign the papers any day. Plans were being made for renovations on the new house, and the selling of the old. If he could just get through the work, his family would be together and the future was ever brighter.
But here we are. It isn’t right by any measure, but he is gone. The man I was talking to not many days ago, joking about his need to do something stupid and juvenile in the midst of all the responsibility, is gone.
I, as you probably are, keep running through my memories of him. They aren’t, by and large, remarkable memories of mountains climbed.
Just the normal ones of a good man. Of the conversations on the porch, the laughter over breakfasts with friends, his negotiating with Margot over how much ketchup or syrup was enough, his honesty, humility, and intelligence when discussing his life and his politics. The comfort and ease with his beloved wife, in whom he'd found the best partner. And how he wanted to challenge himself and be a good father and husband. There was the perpetually messy garage with more projects and aspirations than time. The stories of hunting trips that never went quite right. The never ending search for the next motorcycle and why the current bike was just meh (and how wicked fast he could be when he felt like it). That hair that never did the same thing twice. And, of course, his near magical ability to thread an f-bomb, and not just one, into any fucking conversation with anyone.
But mostly, when I think of Elias, I think of him playing with my daughter Jane. Smiling that big smile of his, with those pink lips I loved to rib him about, he played with her without any artifice or concern. With love. As no one other than perhaps her mother plays with her. After all, he and Jane were cut from some of the same cloth. There was no guile and no agenda and no worry. Holding her up, and us in turn, he had nothing but joy at the sight of her growing, laughing and doing the stupid things kids should do. It was good, simply good.
There’s an urge to scrub away the blemishes from those that have just passed. Elias had his share, but he really was better. He was one of those few we might find in our lives that shows us how a life should be led. He, quite simply, was one of the finest human beings any of us could hope to know. Being part of his family’s world was a blessing for us. We knew it then and we know it now. We miss him terribly.
Goodbye Elias. We love you.
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Good friends are one of the best blessings of God for human being. People who have such friends are the luckiest people as they have the precious treasure on the planet. We must take care and value our friends as they are your true companions in every situation of life.