I’m back home after an emotionally and physically draining weekend honoring the memory of my friend and cousin, Todd McClure. I anticipated sharing the following words about him, but it didn’t feel like a long speech situation so I abbreviated this considerably. I don’t know what else to do with it so I’m posting it here on the BRC, where I am the supreme ruler of my universe.
Words fall short in these situations. Spending time with his sons, seeing him in their eyes and their wit, that helps. Hugging his wife, my friend I had not seen in many years, that helps. Being with our tribe of friends and my family, that helps, but nothing can help enough because he is gone, and the world is not fair, and for that, it can kiss my ass. That’s about where I’m at in the ol’ grieving process.
For William Todd McClure 6/30/2018
I had the honor of being Todd’s best man at he and Jennifer’s wedding. In our private moment before the ceremony, he pulled out the ring for me to carry. My hands were shaking. Tears streamed down my face. I had already sweat through my coat. I was a total mess. Todd was perfectly calm and joyful. Forever cool in his seersucker suit, he was all about the business at hand. He gripped me firmly by the shoulders, looked me the eyes and told me “You got this,” and helped me take a couple of deep breaths. I was so emotional because I knew he had found his person, and that she loved him even more than I did, and that he would forever from that point on, be okay without me. Later that evening, at the reception, as I tried to give my toast, I got choked up again, and couldn’t finish what I had to say. One of the last things Todd said to me was that he was so happy I found my wife Melissa, so he knew I was going to be okay without him as well.
To Todd I say, the third time’s a charm buddy. I’m going to get this done today.
I was lucky enough to join this family when my father married Melanie, one of Todd’s aunts, when I was about 12 years old. I remember the first big gathering at the holidays when I nervously joined this horde of cousins, most of them here today, playing soccer in the mud before dinner. Todd was inside though, with a stack of about fifteen books, reading on the couch. I now know that is what we call foreshadowing. In the years Todd and I rambled around the country together, we shared hundreds of quiet evenings reading on some of the more disgusting and dilapidated couches one can imagine. With our other friends and brothers, Darin and Joe, we once completed a 7,600 mile road trip in a series of ever smaller cars. During those years Todd, myself, and many of our friends here today lived mostly in two places- our own heads, and the natural world. The jobs we held and the places we lived were incidental means to our more majestic and noble ends. I recommend such reckless abandon to all of you young ones here today.
Written in second person, a letter to Todd
One of a thousand priceless memories is of our trip into Bighorn Cave along the border between Montana and Wyoming. After 10 hours of scrambling for miles underground it was time to exit the cave by going back up the rope we used to rappel down. We descended into the cave around lunchtime, and now it was late evening, so looking up from the bottom we could only see that circle of stars overhead.
I went first, mainly so I could determine if I was in a crisis, or just a situation.
It turned out the desire to see that sky, and feel the blasting, minus 9 degree wind chill gave me strength and courage to climb ten times the length of the rope. I rose into the safety cage above ground swinging from a steel bar, and hanging there, 100 feet above you, I could not make sense of what I saw. The stars, the mountains, and the sky were all blurred together. I thought my eyes were not working right after so many hours of darkness underground. I could see your headlamp poking up the rope in the big, open chasm beneath me. You were moving steady, grunting, and just getting the job done. You joined me at the top, where I stood gaping into the icy wind. As soon as you looked up you recognized it immediately. As I remember that night, you hung there in your harness, 100 feet above this ancient cavern floor formed two and a half million years ago during the ice age, nonchalant like you were sitting at home on the couch.
“That, my friend, is the Aurora Borealis. The Northern Fucking Lights.” Then you did that chuckle you do when you checkmate someone.
It was true, they were the Northern Fucking Lights, and that was the first, last, and only time I saw them. I would bet money you saw them again somewhere. That spot, on that night, is where I will always remember you, suspended between the ancient mystery of the world we know, and the infinite magic of the worlds we have yet to discover. You were, and will forever be, completely at ease on that rope in between.
Being apart from you all these years never bothered me. Sure I wish we could have been neighbors, or taken vacations together, but we had it too good for too long for me to be that selfish. Neither of us were ever tourists anyway. I thought of our separate lives as two spin-offs to a blockbuster adventure movie. None of us have enough time to live all of the lives we desire, but together, as a tribe we become all things. A part of me stayed out west, built a life, and raised two incredible young men, and a part of you returned to the south and serves kids in crisis every day through me.
When my brother, Tres, moved to Tallahassee in 2003, I got to do it all over again. Yet another in the McClure gang to join forces with, another new set of goals and dreams, another round of nasty couches, and trying to replicate Grandma Jewell’s family recipes. This time, Tres was the best man at my wedding, as well as the caterer, photographer, and chief of security. Thanks to my adventures with Todd, Tres and I had a blueprint to follow, so understand that the daily routines of today absolutely become the folklore of tomorrow, and in the personal mythology that I share with so many of you here, and so many across this earth who can’t be here, there is no greater legend and folk hero than the man we all know simply as, “Cousin Todd.”