Thank you everyone.I will go ahead and let this thread fade, but before I do, I'd like to post this: a slightly edited version of what I spoke at one of the two memorial gatherings we had for Wallace yesterday.
The turnout of so many beautiful loving friends--both physically there, and here in the internet--was overwhelming. Many very young and wise people stood up on the snow and spoke their hearts about Wallace's beauty and impact. I was both stunned and grateful.
There is still much to be done. But we're beginning, through the tears, again. Here it is, and thank you for your thoughts and your indulgence.
A tribute to Wallace Briggs Westfeldt, spoken at his memorial gathering in Aspen on 4/09/08. His mother, brothers, and many others also spoke eloquently from the heart about his being and what he means to us in all the levels of our lives. This is the only statement I “own”, so I’ll only send this one out.—Weems Westfeldt
I want to thank all of you for the love you showed Wallace throughout his short life. You all contributed, directly and indirectly, so much to him and to our whole family, that we are completely humbled and deeply grateful.
And now we have to grieve and mourn and celebrate together before we move on.
I see an underlying theme in our grieving—sometimes spoken, but often silent—that I summarize with the word “WHY?” This is accompanied by another thought that this CANNOT BE TRUE.
When my dear friend, Mike Kaplan, came to our house to inform me of Wallace’s death, I really didn’t even understand the words he was saying. They seemed to crawl into my ears (bad enough ears anyway!) in disjointed syllables that had no possibility of making sense.
My mind wouldn’t take this in. It just refused. Often it still does. And then the reality slaps me (and us) in the face with waves of grief.
So I’ve stopped worrying too much about “Why?” And, whether there is an organizing principle in the universe or not--whether things happen for a reason or not--I’m pretty much at ease with incomprehensibility, chaos, and the apparent randomness of phenomena. Rather than try to pin down the reason, I am learning just to accept it.
My nephew and former ski racer, Matt Luhn, reminded me yesterday that the mountains give us all that we do and love out here, and yet, sometimes, they just claim one of us. It's the natural course of mountain living and it has been so for centuries. We don't like that. But we understand it, and it teaches us, like the ocean does, with such stunning directness about our vulnerability as we dance with the universe. There is nothing I can do about this, except to keep on dancing the dance—to keep on making turns.
However, I can heal from life’s blows.
For me, the beginning of healing occurred when the awful truth of Wallace’s accident became real within me. This didn’t happen suddenly, nor will the healing.
But, I need to testify here that IT IS REAL, AND THAT IT IS HARD, AND THAT WE WILL HEAL.
This doesn’t mean that sadness will disappear. Nor does it mean that there will be no scars. And it clearly doesn’t mean that we will walk away from Wallace and his great gift to our lives.
I think it means that we will be able to move forward…to place him gently and properly in our individual and collective heart… and to live lives that honor him. With time, I won’t need to think of this every day. It will just be a feeling I will have—connected to a smile at the thought of him.
The “thought of him”—the concept of Wallace—is my grounding place for all of this. It’s based on another odd question that keeps coming up: “Who was this child, this perfect young being, who has graced our lives?”
So I will take a moment to express my own answer to that and tell you what you already know. I know that I can only express a tiny part of the real answer, but I’m arrogant enough, and broken-hearted, enough to try.
1. First, Wallace was perfect from our perspective. He moved through his world with qualities of grace, elegance and style, with kindness and love, with wisdom and humility. And humor! The light and gentleness in his eyes and smile told most of the story. Other parts were told through his perseverance, his amazing coolness, his aspirations, and his sense of the “trickster”. I remember his Grandfather, Poppy Bogle, saying, with this twinkle in his eye, “That Wallace is a rascal!” I think maybe Wallace was about 6 weeks old at the time.
2. Secondly, Wallace was part of one of the greatest miracles of mine and Nancy’s lives—our triplet miracle. Watching him, and his brothers, move through their lives as a team—sometimes working as one, sometimes differentiating perfectly, and even sometimes—but rarely—having their own dysfunctions…..Wow, what a pleasure to witness! What delights we’ve seen! They seemed to be a center of gravity for each other, their friends and relatives, and for us (their parents). And just as often they were a bit embarrassed by the attention it brought them.
But it was wonderful—full of antics and scenarios that gave us laughter, tears, worry, and comfort. And it was weird! I remember when we first became conscious of them. We were getting a sonogram for Nancy when she was 17 weeks pregnant, and the attendant turns on the machine, and says, “Well, there’s the baby. (pause) And there’s another one right over here.” (And I’m thinkin’, “ANOTHER ONE!???”) (Again sometimes these words don’t really get into my brain very clearly!) And then he says, “And there is a third one over on this side.” (And I’m thinkin’ something like, “Dude, I think you got the wrong channel. Or maybe your machine’s busted. Or, use the sonogram, not the copier!”)
And from that point on nothing was the same, and everything was magical. (Not easy, but magical.) And very funny: This wonderful Taoseno lift op in Taos came up to me and with laughter in his eyes, said, “Hey Weems, bro, I heard you was havin’ triplets! Who’s the father of the other two!”
Wallace’s leg of the tripod will not be replaceable. But I already know and see that Packy and Ben, as they internalize their brother, and with their inner strength, can stand on their own. This triplet bond doesn’t end in the death of one.
3. Thirdly, Wallace was a wonderful friend for all of you, and a loving son and brother for us. Amelia, Wallace’s love and companion says it best and most simply. “He was so easy to love.” The children and friends at our service on the snow, all said the same in one way or another.
4. And, finally, Wallace had the magic on his snowboard. In spite of all his injuries, he was a master of his body, his board, gravity, air, and snow. His skills were vast and his technique was flawless. He understood his snowboard, the snow, and the mountain forces, and knew what he could do with all that. His determination and commitment was so inspiring that it sometimes broke our hearts, but also made us happy. I remember him duct taping a skateboard with no trucks to his feet and doing flip after flip on a trampoline. When he first got the chance to ride—at a much earlier age than we were recommending in the ski school—he walked up and slid down endlessly on the beginner hill at Snowmass—discovering the craft and honing the skill—just as any child learns to walk.
However, for me, what really stood out was the way he touched the mountain and the snow—with the same grace and feeling that he touched us all. Watching him make simple turns on groomed slopes was just as moving for me and Nancy as watching him jump or ride rails. The little things he did, the flow of his movements and snowboard—these were just stunningly simple and beautiful. He massaged the snow and danced with gravity in ways that I’ve always wanted to achieve. Many musicians can play their instruments, but few can make them come alive with the music. Wallace was transcendent in the way he worked his body and his board and his spirit. And that was the magic that just enthralled us. And we’re all so lucky to have seen it.
So here’s the deal. I’m going to gently move gratitude to its rightful place alongside the sorrow.
You can’t choose how long you can live. But you can choose how well you do it.
And, Wallace chose very very well.
And I’m so grateful for that.
You can’t choose how long your loved ones are with you physically. But you can choose how you enshrine them in your own mind, body, and spirit.
And, it will be so easy to keep Wallace in our hearts.
I’m really grateful for that.
You can’t manage the course of your children’s or your friends’ lives. But you can honor them EVERY DAY in the way you, yourself live.
And, it will be fine to lead my life trying to be worthy of the gift of Wallace’s short, beautiful life.
I’m completely grateful for that.
As Tom Crum has taught me so well…”Always give thanks.”
So I invite you all to join me in this gratitude. It feels very good.
And besides, we have no other good choice on this. The experience of having been touched by Wallace demands it!
Weems Westfeldt, April 9, 2008