a dying friend
by Elizabeth Sterling
I wrote this
letter to our friend Damon Chappie, who passed away last Friday,
but unfortunately I did not get it in the mail soon enough. Damon
was Johns roommate at Penn State University, and later went
on to become an investigative reporter for the publication Roll
Call. Damon became blind when he contracted a viral infection while
vacationing in Mexico 6 years ago. Serious complications from this
illness lead to his death last week, at the age of 40. I decided
to share it with you all because the lessons Damon taught me were
significant. There are so many people we encounter that have a lesson
to teach us. The question is are we wise enough to learn?
John and Kevin
just left to come down to see you. I wanted to send this letter
along, but I did not get it written in time to send it with them.
I wanted to let you know that I love you, and I am so sorry that
your journey has been so difficult, especially lately.
I went for a long run on the mountain behind our house, and I thought
about you for most of that run. I pushed myself to run farther than
I really had the time or energy to run. But thinking about your
struggles and your suffering, I pushed myself on. Your strength
pushed me on. It became quite dark in the woods by the time I was
a little over half the way. I thought it was a perfect way to think
about you and the difficulties you have faced. When I was almost
back to my car, a light off to the left caught my eye. It was the
moon, and it was so beautiful.
The light is
always there. Even in the darkest time, the light is waiting to
catch our attention and remind of us something bigger. Our tiny
ego mind focuses on the pain and suffering, but the spirit longs
for that light and living way bigger than the ego mind even imagines.
I used to fear
death and change, but I never even knew how much I feared them.
My fears became so great at one point that I had physical problems
that began keeping me from living the life I wanted to live. Once
I finally found out that I had these fears that was the first step
in learning how to be freed from them. I prayed for help in learning
how to accept the inevitable fate of all life forms. And I was granted
a precious gift.
My son, Bennett,
taught me many things in his short time on this planet. He taught
me how to love, to live fully, and most importantly, how to accept
death. Our bond was so close, that as he was dying I was led very
close to death myself only mine was an emotional/spiritual death
rather than a physical death.
me that death is not an end. It is a transition, a migration, a
change, a birth. Bennett is so alive today, and I can feel his spirit.
He has impacts in this world today that will continue for eternity.
And so it is
with you. You may not realize all the impacts you have had on this
world. Or, you may feel that they are insignificant, but I know
otherwise. Because I know that you have impacted my life significantly.
I will always
remember a gift that you gave me when we were out in Colorado for
Kevins wedding. You may or may not remember this, but you,
your girlfriend, and John went white water rafting one day while
I headed off on my bike to climb the highest paved mountain road
which climbed over 14,000 ft. As I started up the mountain, thunder
and lightning threatened my safety. At one point, I pulled off at
a latrine just to seek cover. I was able to proceed, but at the
halfway point it started snowing. There were so many obstacles for
me that day, and no matter how hard I tried or wanted to succeed
I was not going to make it. I knew that day was my only shot at
making the ascent, and I was very disappointed that I had not achieved
Not too long
after I abandoned my attempt to get to the top, you three pulled
up to rescue me. And we drove to the top of the mountain instead.
The scenery was spectacular, and it was hard to believe we were
so high that we were above clouds. We were ooohing and aaahing,
and you began asking what??? What does it look like? And that is
when I really opened my eyes. We all began describing the amazing
views, and your face showed true delight and joy. What a gift that
was. That is how I remember you, Damon. I remember you with a big
smile on your face.
And what I learned
that day was that I may not always achieve the goal I set out to
achieve, but the real joy is in the journey itself. You gave me
a new perspective on life that day that Ive carried with me.
And I have told that story to others as a way to illustrate that
even when you do not achieve the goals you set out to achieve if
you open up your eyes you will recognize the incredible blessings
that you have been given along the way.
And now, you
are giving John another gift. Would you have ever imagined that
the John you knew in college could be such a compassionate man?
Whether you realize it or not, you are helping him (and me) grieve
for Bennett. You are helping him face emotions that have been buried
deep, and that will help him for the rest of his life. What an incredible
friend you are.
What an incredible
guide you have been to both of us Damon. Please know, that we are
with you in spirit as you climb that mountain back to the light.
Whether your transition is back to health or to a new life, please
know how much we love you and that you will always be alive to us!
Love and blessings,
The unique personality
which is the real life in me, I can not gain unless I search for
the real life, the spiritual quality, in others. Felix Adler
be with Damons family. Help them remember all the ways he
impacted their lives. Help them realize how his life impacted this
world. Help them know that he lives on forever in spirit. Lord thank
you for all the guides and teachers you have put in my life. Help
me to be wise enough to learn. Amen.