My Two Favorite Steve Stories

It is a shame we live such short lives. In my early 60s, I’m getting a better view of the end of that proverbial tunnel, but along the way I’ve figured a few things out; things that might have ironed out a few bumps in the road for me if I’d have know them earlier.

One of these revelations occurred to me yesterday at the visitation for the death of our dear friend Steve Seidel. Steve was just my age, and died of brain cancer. Lots of people die every day, so why, I wondered, did this one hit me so hard. As Steve’s friends and family were sharing their grief at that event yesterday, I encountered Steve’s two children, who I’d mostly lost physical contact with over the years, but still maintained a Facebook relationship.

Both were sad, of course, but clear-eyed, erect, and facing the great challenges of life before them with a confidence that I frankly found both startling and comforting. “These two will do just fine,” I said to myself.

One of my favorite sayings is, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Then I realized why at least a very important part of the bond that connected Steve and me existed… I was part of that village! We had trusted each other with our children, and they had learned from us that adults are not some fearsome authority, but just possibly were smart and capable allies that can help you do things you’d not be able to do otherwise. Having had no such adult influence in my younger life, I suddenly saw the power of this concept embodied in these two fine young people, and in their offspring as well. What a powerful revelation. And what a comfort it is to know that at least part of the myth of immortality is true… that we’ll live on through the actions of our children.

My first favorite “Steve story” took place on a cross-country trip with the Boy Scouts for a backpacking trip in the Weminuche wilderness area in the 4-corners area of the western US. We drove during the days, and camped at night with the boys on this trip. On the way out, we made a planned stop at a huge Cabela’s store. Many of us in that convoy, including myself, had never seen such a huge camping store, and were in awe of the full aisles of useful gear that existed in our minds only as black-and-white pen drawings in the CampMor catalogs. Like most of the others on the trip, I spent a lot of time browsing the aisles.

I happened to walk outside at one point, and noticed a lone person standing at the end of the driveway of the Cabela’s store, looking across the road. I recognized it to be Steve, so, curious, I walked out there and stood with him. “What is he doing out here when there is such cool camping gear just over there,” I asked myself. Shortly, the answer became clear to me. The ground began to shake, a whistle sounded, and a freight train hove into view. This Cabela’s happened to be across the road from a very active train track, and Steve was much more interested in the trains than anything Cabela’s had to offer. When the noise died down a bit, I remember him explaining to me that this train had a GE drive train that contained diesel engines running generators that converted the power from AC to DC several times before the electric motors that drove the wheels got the power. As usual with Steve, I came away from that event knowing much more than I had.

My second Steve story took place within the past year. I knew Steve was very sick but in remission. We’d interacted on and off since the illness, but I’d frankly lost track of how things were going for him with his cancer battle. I called Steve out of the blue because I had an idea. I wanted to build an elliptical track about 100 feet long that would have a small replica of the planet Earth on it. This little earth would spin once per day, and would circumnavigate the track once each year. As I was trying to figure out how to make this work, it seemed to me that train tracks and a very slow moving model train might be the solution. The choice of who to call to pitch this outlandish idea was obvious to anyone that knew Steve.

Of course, the final solution did not involve a train, because no model train could move that slowly (a few inches each day) for such an extended period of time. But Steve didn’t just tell me it was a stupid idea and leave it at that. As we talked it over on the phone, I could tell he was warming up to the idea, and with his help, we came up with a much better solution. This project has not made it off the drawing board yet, but if it does, and if it works, it will be due to the ideas I got from Steve during that conversation. I’m pretty sure that phone conversation is the last time I ever spoke to him.

So why do we grieve so completely over one death, and hardly notice another one? I think part of it involves touching immortality through our children, and that words are probably inadequate to explain it. It is one of those things that you know when you feel it, but is gone as soon as you think about it. Besides this huge and powerful experience, Steve and I just liked each other. We joked, talked, laughed, cried, and never expressed harsh feelings toward each other. It is one of those friendships that you don’t miss until it is gone. One that teaches while it is there, and instructs every day that it isn’t.

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