I've become fairly adept at taking only a carry-on bag for almost any flight for any length trip, but it does take a bit of planning, especially in the case of my most recent trip to Glasgow and Cannes, where we would be dealing with spring-like and summer-like conditions respectively. Well, I shouldn't give myself too much credit, as I can very easily wear jeans, a hoodie, and a toque in any weather. Regardless, I had packed my bag, and came to the point of choosing what I would to wear to the airport. I looked across the room at the laundry pile and found what I was looking for; a no-brainer when it came to this trip.
I picked up the white shirt with the 3/4 length royal blue sleeves and the matching royal blue "WIN THE DAY" on the front and large number "15" on the back. 15 was David's number. David started the baseball team I joined in 2007, my first summer in Guelph. We're called the Brewers. Where the other teams in our league were more established, and came in as almost full teams, we were a ragtag bunch of random guys who emailed the league because we liked baseball. David took on the role of manager/captain/skipper, and collected the names and emailed us all to see if we'd like to be part of a new team. The Brewers were born, and as a direct result of that team, I have made the majority of the friends I have here in Guelph. I have David to thank for that, and was lucky enough to tell him that the last time we spoke. Just over a month ago, my friend David's body finally succumbed to the cancer that had been growing there for about a year.
I didn't see David in his final few weeks, last seeing him at the beginning of April. I went to his house with a batch of chicken curry in hand, hoping it would mean a few less meals Brie (David's wife) would have to prepare, giving them more time just to be together. David was thin (he was never not thin, but this was different) and weak, not leaving the couch for the duration of our two and a half hour visit, but what a wonderful visit it was. David wasn't the kind of friend that I would call or hang out with regularly - I don't much do that with anyone - but we always had such wonderful conversations when we did see each other. There was always baseball. Man, that guy loved baseball. He loved playing baseball, he loved watching baseball, and he loved talking baseball. He helped bring back my love of baseball, just with his excitement about the game. But there was more than baseball, too. David was the kind of person who was genuinely interested in other people, all aspects of other people. I distinctly remember, in one of our early Brewer seasons, my parents came to one of our games. In between innings, David went and introduced himself, thanked them for coming, and carried on a little conversation with them, most likely saying nice things about me, because that's who he was. After that, a conversation with David wouldn't go by without him asking how my family was doing, and after my niece was born in 2008, she came up in every conversation as well. He shared my love of music and movies, speaking about those at length, and he also enjoyed my cooking. Again, much like my ability to wear winter clothes year-round, there wasn't much in the way of food that David didn't enjoy, so I shouldn't be too proud of myself. Regardless, I'm pretty sure he had a hollow leg to store it all, and it was certainly a thrill for me when they would host a barbecue or something, and he would specifically ask me to bring guacamole, or tell me how much they enjoyed the curry I once sent home with him.
What turned out to be the final conversation I had with David was wonderful for both of us. There was a spring training baseball game on the television as I took my place on a couch across from where he lay. Along with baseball (of course), we spoke of health, positive outlooks, about not having regret, about being at peace with the reality of death, and preparing for it. While everyone was hopeful of a miracle cure that would see David back on his feet, or even better, fielding fly balls in centrefield for a long time to come, there was the overhanging reality that that wouldn't be the case. Cancer is unfair, and cancer can be relentless. However, in David's case, while it viciously attacked his body, it couldn't do anything to his spirit. He remained his positive self until that final conversation I had with him, and I'm presuming until he left us.
People often speak of cancer being a "battle". I used to interpret that as a battle between the body and the disease, and thought it was an unfair fight. After seeing David though, it took on a new meaning for me, as a battle between the disease and the spirit. That can be a fair fight, and I saw my friend David win it. I never liked the idea of death being a "lost battle". David's body finally couldn't take it anymore, and I'm sure he had to convince his spirit to let go, which was probably the hardest part. I think sometimes it takes more courage to let go. In letting go, David showed me (and the rest of us who love him) that we don't have to be afraid, and that by us remembering the best of him - his love, kindness, generosity, and fighting spirit - he won the battle.
After David's service, in a little brown envelope that had "all you need is love" written on it, I received a small piece of my friend. His remains were distributed among many of us who loved him, to take away and scatter in places we thought David would enjoy. I told Brie at the service that I had plans to visit Glasgow and Cannes in June, and that I would take David there. So in my suitcase, in a small ziploc bag, I put the envelope and the small card that we received at the service that had, on one side of it, a picture of David in his Brewers uniform, ready to catch a ball in the outfield.
It had been my intention to try to get up to the highlands in Scotland, and scatter David somewhere there, but we didn't end up getting there. As I walked around Glasgow last Friday morning in the rain, I came across this sign:
The first thing that came into my head was Major League Baseball player "Dave Winfield", and I thought this was the perfect place to leave a bit of David in Glasgow.
We travelled on to Nice, and eventually Cannes that day, where I had the entire Côte d'Azur and Mediterranean Sea at my disposal, which would have been a fine place for David, but I chose instead, my favourite bakery in Cannes, a little place called "Marché des Pains, where I have been a regular customer over my past three trips there. I go and buy baguettes and croissants there almost daily, as a good wannabe French resident should, and the people there are always very friendly. I know David would love having a conversation at one of the small tables outside over some fine French breads and pastries, so I left a bit of him there to enjoy that.
I'm lucky that music has taken me to some wonderful places around the world, and I am now lucky to be taking a friend along with me. It's nice to know that I'll now be able to visit David the next time I'm in Glasgow or Cannes.
It's been a while since I've visited this blog. It's something I always say I need to do more. I've had a few distractions the last little while, but those should now be behind me, and I should now be able to focus on the new album. I had a conversation with David in December about plans for the new album, and he was very excited for me, promising that he would be at the release, and any show he could make before that. I won't see him at the release party, but I don't think for a second that it means he won't be there. I played my first show in quite a while a few weeks back, performing two songs in the round as an opener for The Young Novelists' album release party, and I dedicated my first song to David. The song "May the Sun Always Shine On Your Door" will be on the next album, and is about always being there for someone, and always hoping for the very best for him/her. I think it's one that my friend, had he ever heard it, would have loved to sing to his darling daughter. I suppose that's a way I can help keep his memory alive, by having a conversation with her one day about how much her Daddy loved music, how wonderfully supportive he was of mine, and how he always encouraged me to pursue this life, regardless of the odds. That was David. It wasn't about the odds. It was about the passion.
Like many of us, I've been missing my friend, especially as our baseball season has started. The last thing we heard from Skip was about a week before he passed. He sent us an email on a beautiful Saturday afternoon saying "You guys had better be out there practicing on a day like today. Shag some flies, field some grounders, enjoy the sun! Get the f@#$ out there. Baseball!" As the days get nicer, I think about that email, about how much I'd love to receive that email over and over again, about how much I'd love for David to be out there with us, about how cruel and unfair life can be, taking a young man away from his young family. At times, when I think about that, admittedly, I have wished that we could have traded places so that he could have remained with his wife and young daughter. But then I think about what he would say if I admitted this to him, so I try to squash those thoughts. My time will come, as will ours all. For now though, while I'm among the fortunate, I'll try to do good with the time I've been given, and add my friend David to the corner in my heart where I keep those with whom I share my intent to do that good.
Wherever you might be reading this, David, thank you for giving me the chance to know you. I'm better for it. I'll do my best to keep our boys in check, Skip. I love you, I miss you, and I look forward to more adventures together, my friend.
O Captain! My Captain! Win the Day.