We drove to Maryland from Maine on Friday, getting to Goucher College by mid-afternoon. The drive, while long, has become familiar, though I still look forward least to I-287 from White Plains to the Garden State Parkway. I know when to plan gas and pee stops on the Mass Pike, GSP, and New Jersey Turnpike. And I have gotten to be a big fan of highway-speed EZ-Pass toll plazas.
Aside from the drive Friday morning, mid-day, and afternoon, the coming weekend and spending time with two of our three daughters, college visits, and a side trip to Washington, DC for the day, I had other things on my mind.
Wednesday night I had gotten another one of those calls we all dread. Our niece (by adoption – more about that in a moment) Marie called as we were about to go to sleep. Never mind that it was only about 9:30, but I didn’t recognize her voice at first. She said, “Dad’s gone.” You can imagine the conversation from there. Or maybe you can’t, but it’s still all too familiar to me.
Marie is now 26, but I was (as far as I know) the first to babysit her and her older brother Andrew together when she was but a week old. Her parents, David and Claire Lint, had come to be good friends while I was in college at the University of Maine. They seemed to have this habit of adopting college students as family members, some temporarily, some – as I would come to learn – permanently. David and I had worked together at the University of Maine Police Department, he as a full-time patrol officer, me as a part-time student police officer. We became friends fairly quickly, both having offbeat senses of humor, both being kind of big, goofy guys.
In the years since I graduated our lives moved on. I married and had three girls, the eldest of whom became Dave and Claire’s goddaughter. They had two more children, and I became godfather to their son Mathew. We vacationed together for a few years, traveled to their tiny home in Orono nearly every Christmas for the best party you can imagine (I always knew I could find the real spirit of the holiday there), and were generally parts of each others lives for the last thirty years. David became, in every meaningful sense, my adopted older brother.
Leaving for Maryland Friday morning, as we had planned for weeks (months?) meant that we would miss David’s wake and funeral, that we would not be with the rest of his family to mourn his death and celebrate his life, to be part of the Mass celebrating our sure and certain hope in his, and our, eventual resurrection.
We had a great time last weekend, at least I know I did. Getting to visit our middle daughter at school, having our youngest get a chance to see it for herself, visiting Johns Hopkins again on Saturday, spending the day in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, driving to DC Sunday to walk around Eastern Market and a few memorials, and driving home Monday with a side trip to Penn, all of it was worthwhile. And while all of this is what I needed to do, I couldn’t help feeling torn, knowing I couldn’t be in two places at once. We visited the Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, but part of my mind was hundreds of miles away.
David, or “Duke”, as he was called, taught me about sailing, got me to try brewing my own beer, shared his family and faith with me, explored our shared journey to possible vocations as deacons in the Church, and more than anything else shared himself, his family, and his love, with me and my family for the last thirty years. It was a gift I can never truly repay but by keeping his memory and his family part of my life as long as it lasts.