A Meager Tribute to a Good and Worthy Friend! Memory Eternal, Todd Kanick!

Todd and FamilyThe last time I wrote here, it was for the same reason, and here I am again.

The world has lost another good man as I see it, and I am in despair.

This past week, a high school friend of mine, Todd Kanick, unexpectedly passed away from a yet to be determined cause. A friend, close to the discovery, revealed that the cause of death was not clear.  This has not stopped the rumors, and it upsets me greatly.

However, to get to the point, I am writing today for I am still dismayed and grieved. I write because I am frustrated, though I blame no one person for that fact. I am writing because my voice is not loud enough, and I want to shout out something that I really think needs to be said, so I’ll get on with it.

For starters, I cannot claim to be Todd’s best friend, nor was he mine. I do not wish to overstate our relationship, but at the same time, I don’t wish to understate it.  I think I knew him quite well and I believe I knew his character which is why I mention all of this.

While we attended school together, I would say we were pretty good friends. We sang together for years in Chorus and Chorale (both tenors and both over 6 foot, so we were often positioned next to one another). We performed in stage shows and performances together many times. We both loved our respective athletics, but also enjoyed singing (not a typical combination, as we both knew). We also enjoyed very similar music tastes, which in and of itself, can lead easily to friendship during the teenage years. We both immensely enjoyed more obscure types of hip hop, dance, and house music, while always looking forward to school dances very much. Sharing so many things in common with another offers a lot of validation to a young man looking for others like him and being able to actively to participate in those interests with a friend is a rare thing.  C.S. Lewis wrote in “The Four Loves,”

Friendship arises out of mere companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and, which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure.

I think Todd and I shared more than just a few things in common and being able to acknowledge those shared interests together created a real friendship for which I was grateful. Unfortunately, that friendship did not continue much out of high school, and I guess, that in growing up and moving away, that is often expected. Facebook, that “thing” which I loathe yet often rely on, allowed us to stay connected, if even just poorly.  We communicated just a few weeks ago after he had shaved his beard after having kept it for so long. Our dialog was good, and he finished with something like, “I’m always here for you,” or at least he said something like it.  Typical Todd.

And this is why I’m writing today. Yesterday I had the blessing of attending Todd’s funeral. There was a granite box placed on a table with a picture from his facebook page in a small wooden frame. I’m sure the family did the very best they could under the circumstances to make the surroundings beautiful and I mourn for them and with them.  There were calling hours and they concluded with a brief service offered by a very kind pastor, who did the best he could with what he had to work with. He even offered the family an opportunity to offer a few words, thus several of them graciously shared their thoughts and experiences, offering some kind memories and experiences they shared with Todd. I remained silent as I was not family, and honestly, really enjoyed the anonymity and solace of the corner chair. I was surrounded by his family and friends in front, and gladly, several of my fellow “Tigers” who knew him better and were part of his circle sat to the left of me.

However, I have an admission. I did not find solace in the service. I personally received no closure from it though I am certain others did.  The early part of the service had been dedicated to sharing memories of his life, and so I yearned to be moved by the sharing of the greatness of what Todd was, something that I think the beauty of his life revealed and which the world needed to hear.  However, those who spoke, through no fault of their own, could not provide what I selfishly wanted to hear. In truth, I do believe someone said the word compassion, but it was in passing, at the end of a sentence.  Not at the beginning of a paragraph or a story, which I longed to hear about.

I have another admission, one I never shared with Todd. I saw him like a slightly older brother for whom I had great affection and admiration. While he was only one year ahead of me, he always seemed to be right where I wanted to be, the kind of guy I would yearn to become. The girls thought he was great, he sang wonderfully, and he was well loved by all who knew him.  I knew he struggled with depression, but being a teenager, I was unsure how to help him with that, so I just stayed away when he was down (the exact “wrong” thing to do). He was a better friend to me than I was to him.  For Todd was always building me up.  We both self-deprecated, but when I did, he would stop me and have “none of that”. He complimented me when I sang well (something most guys at that age are naturally averse to doing, in my estimation). He was always trying to get me to believe that I was better than I was, and for that, I am forever grateful. Through this attitude, he also taught me how to simply enjoy the presence of another person and appreciate them for what they had to offer, not for what I merely demanded and desired. As some of this writing reveals, I have yet to attain his appreciation and contentment. I wanted to hear stories like that, because I knew they existed.

Now I don’t expect everyone to be excellent at public speaking (this is not a critique of any person), I’m certain that I also am lacking and thus will cast no stones, but I am well aware of God’s mercy and forgiveness, I just longed so much for everyone to hear what God was trying to teach us through Todd, and that’s what was missing for me.  I longed to hear how Todd had changed lives by his presence. I longed to hear not that he was just nice and fun to be around, which he was, but I longed to hear how he had changed the world because of who he was. Precisely because he did, and I knew it. Instead, I found myself simply holding back tears for his children whom would not have the blessing of their father in their lives and fearing that they might not fully comprehend Todd’s great character and integrity as a person of deep compassion. For me, that was his greatest and most shining light.

One of my personal tragedies in all of this is that I didn’t realize his impact on me until after I had heard about his death and completed the obligatory walk through old high school pictures and yearbooks that seem to occur at times like these. It was at that moment that I recalled how much time Todd and I had spent together and recalled how much he influenced me in my formative teenage years. Since our time together was often cloaked in school events, extra-curricular activities, and long bus rides to performances and competitions, I had forgotten just how much time I had to share with and learn from him. All of the memories of Todd and how much he built me up when others would tear down, flooded back to me. His deep character of lifting up others around himself with absolutely no hopes of a return reveal the depth of what constitute a really good man. Even now this makes no sense to me, as I could offer him nothing. No clique status, no expertise, no return on investment could come from me. But still he built me up because it was a part of his core personhood to do just that. This is how he emulated God and I didn’t want to leave home until someone shouted it out loud. This is where the light of Christ shined through Todd and I wanted everyone to know not just how he treated just those whom he loved, but also the least of us. This trait which allowed him to focus on the good of a person, paying little or no attention to the bad, needs to be emphasized so we can all properly cheer bravo!  He became, even as a young man beyond his years something which we talk about often but seem to know little about, unconditional love and friendship. This is the message I wanted everyone present to hear, but never did.

Every time his daughter walked by me or I saw his younger son sitting with his cousins and friends, I wanted to tell them, “your daddy was a really, really great man, and I know that the both of you truly have the potential to be really amazing precisely because you are a part of him and his goodness can live on through you.” I regret that I didn’t and hope that anyone who might stumble upon this little bit of writing might share this with them if they are able.

I felt relieved and honored to have sat next to his old high school friends because I had the deep feeling that they knew these amazing things about him already. That is, though his last several years had been tough, they remembered him as did I, at his greatest. Unfortunately, I felt that the harbinger of an unexplained death and several years of the haze which depression sometimes leaves was too thick in the air, and inside of me that tension was heavy and my internal dialogue made it hard to accept that just a few nice words and sincere prayers might alone be his legacy.

Greatness must be lifted up and exalted, or we will learn to be satisfied with mediocrity, and in the end, we’ll have nothing to look forward to or hope for that is good, because we forgot to praise the good, and thus will fail to praise God who is the source of all good. Todd was a great man, regardless of affliction. He was more than friendly, for he truly and deeply cared, making his depression even worse when that caring wasn’t reciprocated. I am as guilty as any for not reaching out, and ask him to forgive me. He was more than a nice guy, he was inherently kind and fundamentally gentle. The light of compassion emulated from him like fire and I, for one, will not live another day without emulating that which he was naturally, even if for me, I must work at it.

Of course, I’m relatively sure no one else there was feeling the way I felt probably because they are more gracious than I, and I ask forgiveness if I have offended any who found solace in the services. Rather, it is likely that you are more like Todd than I and saw the good amongst that which I found lacking. I am a man and a fool and enough of both to admit it, and am thus often mistaken. But again, everyone did their best to witness their love for Todd, and I am sure, in that, none were lacking.

But for Todd, a true friend and a good man, I wish you Godspeed and eternal memory. If the Lord allows us to meet again, I will rejoice on that day, for it feels right now like that day can’t come soon enough. I pray that the Lord grant you peace and the forgiveness of sins, as I a sinner ask humbly for your prayers. Your life made a difference in this fallen world because you emulated the good and thus emulated God. Since we all know now what this kind of person looks and acts like through your example and your personhood, we have no excuse not to imitate your good and real example. In this way, God reveals himself to the world through us. Thanks for being a great role model and an undeserved friend to this sinner. I am eternally in your debt and you are truly worthy of everlasting memory!

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And so it begins…

And so it begins…

But it only begins because something has ended. Though the title of this, my first personal blog, might seem quirky or even pretentious, it’s not to me. For in the loss of anything, we are left with having to do something, even if that something is nothing though that’s not my intent you will see. Today, because of a tragedy, I’m choosing to do something, even as insignificant as it might be (I agree). I hope that if you have ventured to read this far that you might too. For the loss was great, the response will need to be as much.

Now to bring these thoughts swirling around my head to an actual point, I must share that yesterday evening, an old friend of mine was taken from us, far too young for my liking. He was the husband of a sweet young woman from Indiana, the father of six gorgeous young children, and the spiritual father to many, only just recently ordained.

He had much to do. He had much to write in the coming age of his golden years and I would be near the front of the line to read his conclusions. Or so I thought.

I’m speaking of the newly departed servant of God Fr. Matthew Baker. I will not imply that we were best friends, we were not. I will not try to tell his story, others are far better at such things than I and have already done so most worthily, both here and here. I am merely here to pay him homage because we were friends, and also to do something in response to that fact.

I’d like to think we were friends from the time we met though our circumstances sometimes tested that friendship, or should I say my circumstances sometimes tested our friendship. We schooled together for about two years. We shared two different sides of the same house and could hear each other through our paper thin walls. He and I sat on my front porch swing for long hours discussing things above our pay grade while he rolled his own cigarettes. When his first son Isaac was born, we found him to be precocious and playful and we played much on our living room floors. I loved those years and recall them easily and fondly. We even had a favorite Mexican Restaurant which we ate together at a couple of times with our wives and even with their new son Isaac.

But at the end of one summer, in particular, Fr. Matthew rightfully grew restless. What he both wanted and needed, that particular environment could not provide, and I am o.k. with that now. But I wasn’t then. I didn’t want him to leave, time had made us friends, even if I was a lousy one.

But the years taught me that he needed something that could only be found elsewhere. I’m glad he found it, and he did find it, as brief as “it” may have been.

Our friendship was rekindled some years back, but due to circumstances of geography, it never progressed beyond phone calls. I figured that would have to suffice until an opportunity might bring us together again for old talks. It never did.

How I looked forward to reading what he was learning for us. How I selfishly desired for him to do the reading I couldn’t or wouldn’t do so that he could pull it all together for me, make sense of it for me. That was one of the gifts God gave him and I longed for him to use those gifts. But in that, I am certain that I am just one of many.

So today I write because he will no longer be able to write. I don’t like this cold fact. The world is not a better place because Fr. Matthew can no longer write and no longer share. It is not better because he can no longer give so freely of his time and freely of his ear, in fact, it feels worse. But he and I both know we can’t allow things to stay this way. For a sorrow can never be a place of shelter within our own earthly lives. So it’s time to get moving. It’s time for me and others to pick up the slack. Now there are no guarantees that anything I write will ever be of any help to anyone, but today, because of Fr. Matthew’s unintentional prompting (at least I think it’s unintentional), I’ll take that chance. I’ll make a try.

For in truth, when a good life ends, there is a void. Death does that. Death is terrible, and I will not pretend to like it. I will weep as my God wept at Lazarus’s tomb, for I am certain death was not a part of the original design. But it is part of the fabric now, and only Christ has the tools to mend it. So I will not be without hope, and neither will I slumber, at least not today.

I started this blog well over a year ago, and I had yet to write and post one word, until today. It just sat there in the blogosphere, unused. Today, I vow to try to do better. I will try to write more today, partly because he can’t. I am not bold enough or stupid enough to believe I can ever or will ever write anything with the depth he obtained and was still in the process of obtaining. But I will try to be a brick in the great edifice of the Faith (pun intended), or at the very least, a bit of mortar.

For I believe that both Fr. Matthew and I (and others like us) shared something then which we still share now, our love for God and His Holy Gospel. Our shared belief that Jesus Christ is real and concrete and subsequently, that we are all made in the image of God, seemed to be enough to drive us foolishly to believe that we should do something grand about it. Foolish because we can’t on our own, but brilliant because He can, and He might even want to use us to do it. Admittedly, my part in doing something about these beliefs and their consequence seems much smaller than Fr. Matthew’s, but I’ll do my part anyway. I’ll try to be the mortar for the great writers already out there today, who already surpass even the best I could ever give on any given day of their choosing. But there must be room for someone small like me, so I’ll do my part, and I will do it at your prompting, no matter how unintentional the push may be.

Brother, I have remembered the name of you and your family from the very first day of my ordination. Rest assured those prayers will not cease. Though now I will now have to move your name from the living column to the departed. To be clear, I am none to happy about this, but there is some joy in saying your name along great priests who mean a lot to me right beside your name. Your beloved family will remain in my prayers with the other Christian militant.

So thank you brother for your time, for your gifts, and for your devotion to the thing we shared most. May your memory be eternal and may you be found worthy of blessedness. Remember me in your prayers, I will need them if I am to be of any use here. And pray to the Lord that I might write even just a few words which reveal the truth of our God to those who desire to know Him, to those looking to love Him, and even to those who are not. I’ll start today because of you. In fact, I just did, and I thank you for that nudge.

And so it goes…