I was in a hurry after the ride today because I’m flying out at 5:35 AM to attend a memorial service in Lawrence, Kansas. It’s called “Toasting the Life of Steve Tilford.” All I can say is, to do justice to that guy’s life it’s gonna have to be a pretty big toast.
One errand I had to run was at the nursery. The little stone pine I’d bought three and a half years ago in lieu of a Christmas tree had outgrown its second pot. I ran into Rich Stahlberg, who had helped me repot it the first time, and he said it was probably time to repot it again.
I went to the nursery and was getting a big bag of potting soil off the shelf. I was wearing jeans and a clean t-shirt and had my car keys on a lanyard around my neck. A pudgy, pissed off guy and his scowling wife came up to me. “Where’s the hardware section?” he demanded.
I stood up and pointed. “It’s over there, through those doors.”
“What aisle are the tape measures on?” The guy was staring at me like I was a real piece of dung.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “Let me see if I can find out.”
He and his wife exchanged glances, as if to say, “What a minimum wage loser, doesn’t even know where things are in his own store.”
I walked over a couple of aisles and found a clerk. “Do you know what aisle the tape measures are on?”
“Sure,” she said. “Aisle four.”
I walked back to the guy and his wife, who were now really mad that I had kept them waiting. “Aisle four,” I said.
They strode off and didn’t say anything.
I finished loading the potting soil and then got a giant ceramic pot for the tree, manhandled it into the cart, and pushed my way through the hardware store to the cashier. The guy in front of me was the rude dude and his wife.
She saw me first. We made eye contact. I smiled at her. Her face turned red and she looked away. Her husband finished paying and glanced at me. It startled him when he realized I was a customer. “Find your tape measure okay?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, rudely, and hurried out.
I wondered what that was all about and then figured it was just normal life, people making mistakes and then being unable to apologize or even acknowledge their error. I see it all the time. It’s pretty sad, really. Mistakes are a great way to understand the world better, and to understand yourself better. Papering them over doesn’t fix jack shit.
Steve Tilford didn’t paper things over. He did the opposite. He examined what was in front of him, thought about it, and often let “it” change his actions and thoughts. Now that he’s gone, a lot of us are struck by how little we knew, or more accurately, how little time we spent trying to get to know. Once a person dies it’s really hard to get a handle on their life, what it meant, how they lived it, what they left behind.
Not so with Steve. He left a written record of over 360,000 words spanning fourteen years. The last seven of those years he wrote pretty much every single day.
One thing that Steve’s life inquired about was this: Are you doing what you want to do, the way you want to do it, with the people you want to do it with? That guy in the hardware store, what was his problem? Was he trying to live his life to the fullest? Or just marking time, and being rude to people in the process?
Better choose wisely. There aren’t any do-overs, as Steve would say.
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