The Crusade

[kroo-seyd]  any vigorous, aggressive movement

for the defense or advancement of an idea, cause, etc.

Today, it wasn’t just another hike.

Today, it mattered.

Today, it became a crusade.

We’ve been coming to Lake Tahoe for the past ten or so years, and for the past six summers, we’ve been doing the Eagle Falls hike on the west shore.  It’s a nice easy hike, up from Emerald Bay into the forest, largely under a beautiful canopy, alternating between steep stone steps, and flat dirt relief, winding through 100 year old pines, culminating with a small, serene lake suitable for a quick (albeit brisk) dip.  The first few trips, it was just another one of our annual activities–a nice hike.  We made some great memories.

But ever since Brady died, it has become much more.

Top of our hike - Eagle Lake
Top of our hike – Eagle Lake

We in our house, and Conni in hers, have identical pictures we printed for display and signing at Brady’s funeral.  They are now proudly displayed in our homes, where all will see on every exit and entrance.  We chose that picture because a) Brady is clearly happy, b) he is waving–to us c) he is in classic Brady attire d) Pauka took the picture and e) he is perched atop a rock, he ventured out to, off the beaten path.  The whole thing screams Brady; outdoors, loving life, doing his thing, on his terms, making us all laugh. Many of you have seen this picture, but most of you don’t know the importance of “the rock.”

Brady on his rock
Brady on his rock

After Brady, along with his parents, realized it was time to leave Sonoma and come back home, we encouraged him to see a psychologist just to see what he might find within.  For moral support, Brady asked me to accompany him for a few visits, but once he connected with the process, he was on his own.  It was good for him, and he tried to incorporate what he learned about himself, into his life.  One recurring theme, was for Brady to take time to slow down, and just sit……on a rock.  You can imagine how contrary this was to my son, who could not be kept still, while he was grabbing life constantly. Brady was always going, always doing, and didn’t know how to just be still.  Maybe because Conni and I, with split custody, were always trying to fit an entire life, into half a week.  Or maybe it was because our generation of parenting focused so much on keeping them busy, or maybe it was just Brady.  Whatever the reason, the image of the rock, a place to just chill, relax, sit, and reflect, became something he and I discussed often.  I’ve since seen several pictures from Brady’s phone, of him doing just that, sitting on a big rock.  Those pictures make me so proud–my son was growing.

In grief, I returned to Brady’s psychologist, who is now, my psychologist, and among many lessons I continue to embrace, I learned that for most people our virtue and our vice, go hand in hand.   They are side by side; so close to each other, we slip from one to the other, without really knowing it.  They are the best, and the worst, or who we are.  My virtue and vice are a post for another day, but Brady’s was his thirst for life (the virtue) and his reckless behavior (the vice.)  So much of who Brady was, is wrapped up in these two traits.  Brady was aware enough to know this about himself, but how is a 22 year old boy supposed to really know the difference in daily choices.  When was he living life, and when was he getting too close to the edge.  I’ve heard it said that a boy’s brain is not completely wired until they are 25; I believe it, and this is where it showed up in Brady–not being able to see clearly the difference between gusto and grave conditions.  One evening, Brady even told me, “Dad, I know I’m going to die young.”  Chilling words, especially now.  I asked him, “Brady, do you want to die?” “No, I don’t.”  Somehow comforting to me now.  But the fear that caused stuck with me, until my fear became our reality.  Brady didn’t want to die, but he knew that the person he was, was living life too hard sometimes.  But still.

After our hike today, after all the emotion, Pauka pondered why.  Why has this place become so important to us.  Brady was there on that rock, only once, but now in grief, we make it to be so much more.  She’s right, we do……I do.   I suppose it is no different than a cemetery plot.  Is it any more crazy to annually visit a burial location?  We do these things because we need to; we need to have a place to go, not too often, to be with our loved ones. To be, with our grief.

Pauka on Brady's rock
Pauka on Brady’s rock

I’ve clearly made this place Brady’s home.  I picture him scaling the rocks, as fast as he can.  I picture him running through the woods, after everybody has gone home.  I picture him, taking that brisk plunge, as only my Superman could do.  I picture him, sitting on that rock.

And today, as I cried walking to the bridge that connects to Brady’s rock, it became a crusade: Vigorous, aggressive movement for the advancement of a cause. I marched across that bridge, almost running, headed to be with my son– the one I have not seen in too many months.  I was going to be with him, nobody could stop me, and of course, nobody tried.  Get to the rock, get to him.  I was leading us all to Brady’s new home.  I connect with Brady every day in my heart, but this place, this is his home.

View from Brady's rock, towards the bridge
View from Brady’s rock, towards the bridge

I stared in amazement at the beauty of this place, as I sat on his rock.  I soaked it all in, I listened, I looked, I touched, and of course, I took a few snap-shots.  The waterfall’s rush, the mountains shaping the valley, and the visitors, unaware of the family crying off to the side.

Look out, and up, from Brady's rock
Look out, and up, from Brady’s rock

Brady’s rock is at the early stages of the hike, so we always stop, spend our time with him, and then, just like in our daily life, we pick ourselves up, kiss him goodbye, and trek up the hill.  It’s hard to climb hills, when I’m crying, but eventually it all comes out, and I’m left with a glorious feeling of peace.  I loved that hike today, and I loved spending that time with Pauka, Evan and Patrick; we had a wonderful day.  KK, we missed you, and Brady says thanks for visiting during your own trip.

I’ll be back to Brady’s rock often; probably every year until I can no longer manage, and I’ll go there with purpose.  I’ll go there, to be with him, and he’ll be there waiting; Don’t ever try to tell me otherwise.  My first born son is one with nature, so to nature I shall go.

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