“Who wants to let Nicole drive them on the Sea-Doo?”
My dad asked the crowd lounging on lawn chairs one summer afternoon at the lake.
I hopefully waited for a cousin, my mom, my aunt, my uncle, my dad’s friend, my babysitter – anyone – to be brave enough to let me, roughly 8-years-old, drive them on our brand new Sea-Doo.
Finally, Uncle Stephen volunteered, “I’ll go with you, Nicolie”
My dad helped both of us to the water. He mainly helped me by reminding me how to drive. He whispered in my ear “no power-turns” as he helped Uncle Stephen get on the back of the Sea-Doo.
As Uncle Stephen held tight to the life jacket on my smaller-than-average 8-year-old body, he said “now don’t throw me off.”
I started off slowly. Gaining confidence, I went a little faster. Gaining more confidence I started following a boat to jump its wake. And gaining even more confidence and forgetting I had Uncle Stephen gripping my little life jacket for life, I did it – I did a power turn, and threw Uncle Stephen right off the back of the Sea-Doo.
I realized immediately what I had done. I wished I could go backwards and remember my dad’s advice – no power turns – and Uncle Stephen’s only wish – don’t throw me off. To my surprise, he somehow managed to climb back on to the unstable Sea-Doo. He held on to my little life jacket, trusting me again, and I sheepishly drove home as he asked, again, “don’t throw me off Nicolie.”
Two of the most amazing things about Uncle Stephen was how trusting he was, and how tender he was.
Uncle Stephen was mostly blind and deaf my whole life. At the time I took him on this terrifying Sea-Doo ride, he was able to make out shapes, but couldn’t see details. No way could he tell where I was going or which way to lean before he suddenly found himself air-born. He trusted my dad to lead him from his safe lawn chair to the sandy and uneven beach, through the rocky shore line, and onto the unbalanced Sea-Doo, and he then trusted his 8-year-old niece to take him on a slow and safe Sea-Doo ride. Why? Because of love. He loved his family more than anything else, and trusted that they would care for him.
It’s a tall tale to me that Uncle Stephen had a temper. My dad told me stories about how they used to fight as kids. How one time Uncle Stephen made him so mad that my dad held his breath, passed out, and chipped his front tooth on the door. All because Stephen stole dad’s crayons (if I recall correctly). Or about the time he became so infuriated with my dad and friend mocking him in the back seat that he rear-ended and front-ended the cars on either side of his parallel parking spot trying to squeeze in. I didn’t see this side of Uncle Stephen. I remember him as soft spoken, gentle, tender, forgiving, and loving. No matter the discomfort he was in (whether on the back of a Sea-Doo with an 8-year-old driver or in deep pain at the end of his life), he never complained and always thought of others. He spent his life focused on bettering the community. He was active in many charitable causes, in church, in the Boy Scouts, and at work developing and continuing Marriott’s culture. He saw the best in everything, saw how it could be bettered, and used his sharp mind and memory to inspire others.
Uncle Stephen once said he could manage his pain with the knowledge that it would only be for a short time. In comparison to the rest of eternity, 54 years on Earth is a short time. I believe he is happily looking down on his family with all the strength and health he deserves. I’ll miss him here, but I look forward to seeing and knowing him again.
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:6-8