A THOUSAND TINY STEPS

The “Art” of Remembering

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Arthur Ellison

I went to a funeral today. 

More of a celebration of life actually, there was no eulogy or religious internment, no casket or urn. There were a lot of pictures, people, food and conversation. A little music and so very many stories.

There were a multitude of tears.

I met Art Ellison in my first years as a coach at Concord High School. His basketball loving daughter Anna came out for track and then cross country. He was at every meet. Anna was always prepared emotionally and physically. While not one to share her personal details, I came to know her just a few years after she lost her mom.

High School girls need their moms. 

I would learn, as the years went by, how it was that Anna was so able to be as well adjusted and stable as she appeared. It was her dad. Art had an incredible philosophy of life that balanced feeling all the feels with understanding that the feels are often temporary and always manageable. While I didn’t know it at the time, I learned today that he and his closest friends would hug and kiss goodbye. 

His emotional intelligence and willingness to ignore society’s expectation of how men should show affection was, I believe, what made him such a good mom. It was hard to watch Anna and her brother Jeremy say goodbye to him. He has been physically gone since March 23rd. These past weeks are likely a blur for them.

His partner Sally shared the beauty that they were able to find in one another, she a widow and he a widower. Understanding that losing the love of your life adds to the poignancy of meeting your next one. Both Sally and Art gave themselves to their children completely. They had to. They were thrust into the roles of mother and father. Then they had each other.

One of the best parts of a memorial service is that you get to “meet” the person you think you knew. Anna and Jeremy were articulate and emotional. Clearly not at all ready to be orphans. The pain was palpable. The list of friends on the program provided all of us with stories and memories covering his work, his political involvement, his recreation, and his family. 

Five men from Art’s life spoke about him. They all cried. They all laughed. Their voices trembled and they were unabashedly honest about their pain. It was stunning. Each storyteller brought a different memory of my own to light as they spoke. My mind drifted as I got caught up in their stories.

I mostly knew him as a “team parent” in the late 90’s when Anna was an athlete of mine. He was always quick to offer a ride to someone who needed one. Anna always came with a prepared dish to team dinners. He stood in all manner of weather watching Anna run.

Once she graduated, he was primarily someone I ran into downtown. I remember running by his house and waving hello more than once. When I began pushing Gracie and then Molly in the running stroller he would entertain them with his always happy face. When I lost my job and ran for school board he reached out and took a sign. He gave me good advice on not letting the bad guys get me down.

When Molly died, he delivered a handwritten note and a pan of lasagna to me as I sat stunned in my yard. He went out of his way to say hello if he saw me about town. Art understood loss. He respected it. He lived with it. When he ran for public office, he would post his signs in my front yard. He always asked first and was quick to collect them after the elections.

When I was telling my friend Pam about him, she asked how old he was. I replied, “not that old, only eighty or so”. She laughed at this and said that I must be getting old if 80 doesn’t seem old! As my eyes scanned the room I saw an abundance of white-haired people. While there were some in attendance younger than me, I was definitely on the young side.

I cried several times. 

The kind where the tears seemed to jump out of my eyes. I wasn’t crying only for Art, but what his death represents, the continuous passage of time. As much as we try to control and manipulate physical realities here on earth, time marches forward. It was almost 30 years ago I was Anna’s coach. Art would have been 50 years old. Ten years younger than I am now. 

How is this possible?

I get scared sometimes about getting old. Jack is just three. Gracie will soon be more out on her own. Kenny will always be defined by his health issues. I am often defined by the voices in my head. Anna is older now than I was when I coached her. He children are approaching the age she was when I met her. Although I still feel young inside my mind, I am getting old. The generation ahead of me is slowly disappearing and mine is stepping into the “old folks” role. 

How did I get here?

Knowing that Molly connects with me all the time, I am quite sure Art will make himself known when his family needs him to. I will say hi to him when I pass by the house in which he raised Anna. That is a house where two families have lost their mother. I will whisper hello and thank him for all that he did. I will appreciate his efforts in helping the voiceless become heard. I will observe his loving parenting as I watch his children thrive.

And I will remember a really good guy who had his priorities straight. It was a pleasure knowing you Art.

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