I don't tell you everything. In fact, I keep things here mostly to triathlon and its immediate orbit. The occasional anecdote about world's wider adventures, but mostly the purpose of this thing isn't to be some kind of personal diary, but instead a place to share this slice of my life. So this is a thing we've been going through for many months, with increasing concern and attention and sadness. I wanted to tell you about it today.
We have a friend, Randy. He was a teacher with Amy at her previous school in Minneapolis, where they work with alternative (at-risk) students. "At-risk" generally means "nobody else wants them in the building", so to thrive in that kind of environment and be passionate about teaching those particular sorts of kids, it takes a special person. Randy had been there for many many years, and was the kind of science teacher who made lessons of the real world. I always thought of him as a sort of wizard. A kind of Gandalf who was this brilliant by-example mentor for younger teachers, like Amy, and also one of those teachers that impacts his students far after the bell has rung.
Randy has run 19 marathons. He kayaked most of North America in his younger days. He was an accomplished photographer, his eye drawn to the inspirations found in nature, a reflection of his broader philosophies (found probably in his classroom relationships as well) that the powerful is often found where others might overlook. I first met him, if you don't consider Amy's frequent stories of the really cool thing that happened at school today officially "meeting", when he came to support me in 2005 when I ran the Twin Cities marathon. He wasn't running it that day. He was just beginning to seriously fight cancer.
He'd run Grandma's Marathon in June of '05, and I think that was his last marathon. The year before, he'd been experiencing some pain in his leg. It was one of those things mentioned casually at the doctor, and they did a quick once-over, and they found a tumor. His has been, the last 4 years, the quintessential cancer fighter's story, inspiring and mesmorizing and tragic in every way. There'd be some drug that would be working for a few weeks or maybe even a few months. He'd have a setback. He'd take three steps forward. He'd take two steps back. Everytime he came back from a doctor's appointment hearing bad news, and to "expect the worst", he'd rally and for a month or 6 weeks he'd be feeling good and strong, before the inevitable downturn.
6 months ago or so, the obvious became clear - that this was a hill getting too steep to keep running up. Still, he was strong, because he was wired that way. He became very close friends with another of my close friends. Theirs was a surprising friendship that, even under the darkness of cancer, blossomed into something unexpected and lovely. She's been there by his side these several months, in joy and sadness. It's been surreal to experience something like twilight with people you care about.
He managed to make it through the school year without having to miss many classes at all, which is true to form - he's the kind of guy that "just wants to make it" to something on the horizon. He was able to come to some of our goodbye parties when we moved in June. Last month we were back in Minnepolis, and Amy got to go spend some time with him reading to him, or sitting quietly. He enjoyed placing his hand on Amy's belly, sharing however he could in the life of a child he won't know. By then he was in the serious throes. He'd lost a great deal of weight, and his hand felt papery when I shook it (mostly held it). He moved slowly and carefully. He was tired in ways that transcend fatigue. He was a very very sick man.
He passed away this morning. Crossing the finish line at last.
I'm sad for Amy - he was a good friend to her, an amazing person in her life. I'm sorry for my dear friend, who has experienced so much in such a short time with Randy. I'm sorry for his students, and the students he would have had, for the loss of a wise sage, and decent man, and brilliant teacher. Randy was just one of those guys where you feel with him gone, the ripple is wide on who it will touch.
Last October a bunch of us dressed up for a halloween fun run, and Randy was there, dressed like Fester from The Addams Family (or is it The Munsters? Randy would know), to slowly make his way down the 1 mile walk/run. His feet were really sensitive for some new pill he was taking against the cancer. After 19 marathons, that 1 miler was his last race. I'm glad I was a part of it.
Peace be with you Randy. Thanks for everything. Thanks for the critical eye you gave some of my photography, and the genuine praise when you found stuff you liked. Thanks for printing out the occassional blog entry and sharing it with your students - I never felt worthy of that at all. Thanks for thinking of me and passing along your running and cycling magazines; I hope you'll allow me the honor of feeling that a torch was passed, there. Thanks for being such a great part of Amy's life, such a great friend and mentor and teacher to her, and with her. Thanks for the love and peace and serenity and wisdom you shared so honestly and freely.
Today's run is for you, kind man, good soul. We'll miss you.
Anoka Halloween Gray Ghost Run, 2006