Late Friday night I receive a call from a friend my family camps with fairly regularly. I didn’t have my phone with me, so I didn’t know he called until much, much later. At 6am on Saturday morning I get another phone call from another camping friend. This time, I’ve got the phone right by my head, so I know the call came in. This can’t possibly be a coincidence. Immediately I suspect that something is up. However, I never would have expected the news I received when I called the second friend back moments later.

My camping buddy informs me that a man who has been a huge personal mentor, a friend, a leader, died late Friday afternoon. Apparently, while setting up the ropes for a rock climbing instructional session scheduled for Saturday, John lost his grip on the rock face and fell over 35 feet to the ground. His climbing partner for the day contacted 911, a chopper was sent, and John died from cardiac arrest in the helicopter.

Why? Why did John have to go? He was an amazing man. A photographer by trade who touched all who met him. Typically people gloss over a person’s shortcomings when they eulogize the deceased. With John, there is no glossing necessary. He was the quintessential father-figure for everyone. John had the exact right words to say at the exact right moment. After assigning a task, he knew who needed help with their duties and how best to assist without micro-managing.

My kids and I had camped with John many times. He was the person who taught us how to rock climb, belay a climber, and rappel. His guidance had secured hundreds of fathers and kids while they learned the basics of dealing with a sheer rock wall.

The most recent time we went rappelling with John, my knee issues prevented me from rappelling or climbing. Instead of having me sit idle or complain about my inactivity, John found ways to involve me while keeping my knee prone. From gathering rope, collecting helmets and carabiners, or keeping track of who still needed his personal touch, John made me feel like part of the group, even in my less-than-perfect state.

He will be greatly missed. We are all better off having known him, but not nearly as well off as we would be had he continued to live.

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