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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

Buzzing From the Stoke

Sam Freeski

At a religious service last month, invited to pray silently, I shut my eyes, inhaled deeply and began my routine gamut of wishes: ongoing health for my children, longevity for my parents, personal creative success, etc. Suddenly, my thoughts came crashing to earth, as I remembered my friend Ron and his 16-yr-old son, Sam, a champion freeskier who, just a week earlier, suffered a major wipeout and now lay in a serious coma.

It seems, when we invoke a higher power, most of us tend to reach for the lofty branches of future outcomes. But, as I sat in that service thinking of my buddy sitting beside his motionless son, my framework tilted backward, from future to present, from what I hoped to realize to what actually existed for me:

  1. Healthy, big-hearted children

  2. Living and loving parents

  3. The use of my five senses

  4. A magnificent life partner

If life was a song I’d title it Everything Can Change The Next Instant. And the chorus would be two words repeated over and over – Give Thanks.

Fortune and Courage, mixed media on paper, 19"x15" 2005, Stuart Sheldon

Fortune and Courage, mixed media on paper, 19×15″ 2005, Stuart Sheldon

I come back to this again and again, because we’re all suffering to some degree. For some, that suffering is ancillary, a sidebar to a life of plenty. For others, like Ron, it is acute, the focal point of his waking hours. Either way, the bad, even the worst-case bad, can be tempered if we itemize the good. And there’s good in there somewhere.

As weeks passed, Sam lay unmoving amidst beeping machines and IV tubes. Day in and day out, Ron stroked the golden hair of his first born. And, even in this horrific state, Ron managed a steady stream of FB posts and emails to acknowledge the real-time tidal wave of love and support that washed over him and his family. He implored us to keep it coming. From the sandwich shop that kept sending food and would not accept payment. To the folks back home who kept a vigil for his boy. To Sam’s ski-team coach and colleagues who paced in the hospital waiting room as the hours ticked by. 

Happy Sam

Whether you call it prayer, intention, focus or simply hope, we all sent our constant healing vibes to Sam. And each time I thought of Sam in his deep sleep, my very next thought was of my sons who were awake – a stark mix of pain and joy that kept me off balance … and made me hug my kids extra tight and kiss them twice as much.

Sam & Sis

Sam died last week. 

I’ve always been a strong believer that there is no future and no past, there is only now.

But how can that be true for one whose child is gone? When, there is only past, what does one pray for?

The answer, syrupy as it may sound, is gratitude. Because, in my darkest hours, there was nothing else to hold onto other than the fact that our loved ones tried so hard to help us.

Goodbye Old Friend, 20"X23" Acrylic, paper, antique book pages and cardboard on panel with original poetry, 2005, Stuart Sheldon

Goodbye Old Friend, Acrylic, paper, antique book pages and cardboard on panel with original poetry, 20X23″ 2005, Stuart Sheldon

Sam was beloved by all. And Ron knows this unequivocally. I hope my sons are held in the same regard. And, like Sam, they charge headlong into their passion, constantly “buzzing from the stoke,” as one surf buddy described that sublime state of being. May they laugh heartily all the time. Make others laugh like Sam did. Stride confidently up to adults and introduce themselves like Sam did. Be one of the bros. Those are all future hopes.

But, we’re talking about present acknowledgment – and for that I can say, with a song in my heart, thank you Sam, for leading by example. For being one of the good guys. For choosing joy and badassery as an athlete. And silly as a friend. And got your back as a brother. And snuggly as a grandchild. You are the child we want our children to be.

And you always will be.

Death Is Nothing

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